Toxic Cloud Forms Over CNN's Piers Morgan

Wil Piers Morgan become the next big target in the Rupert Murdoch phone hacking scandal?

Piers Morgan/CNN

CNN’s Piers Morgan is the latest Fleet Street figure to become embroiled in the hackergate scandal after he was accused of presiding over a culture of phone tapping whilst editor of the the Daily Mirror.

Now the TV inquisitor may well have the tables turned on him and be called to give evidence to the Parliamentary committee, which summoned the Murdoch family last week, after  committee member, MP Louise Mensch accused Morgan of hacking.

Earlier this month MP Adrian Sanders used Parliamentary privilege to accuse Mr. Morgan’s old newspaper the Daily Mirror of obtaining a 2002 scoop — that the former England soccer manager Sven-Goran Eriksson had had an affair with television personality Ulrika Jonsson — by means of phone hacking.

In other developments, in interviews on BBC’s Newsnight and The Independent newspaper, former journalists at the newspaper helmed by Morgan claimed that they witnessed ‘routine phone hacking in the newsroom,’  including hacking Liz Hurley’s phone. Both Morgan and Trinity Mirror, owners of the daily flagship, have robustly denied the claims.

The Newsnight sources claim that one Mirror reporter, who was adept at hacking, was called the ‘Master of Dark‘ arts.

According to one former employee, hacking was used to try and beat the News of the World at its own game. ‘Some of us were given a note of the standard pin codes and most of the hacking would involve two people, ‘ the source told Newsnight. The paper even used a voice expert who could pretend to be someone else in order to obtain confidential records. This is how, it is claimed, the paper uncovered actress Lesley Ash’s medical records.

In an interview with The Independent newspaper, James Hipwell, a former financial journalist at the Daily Mirror which was edited by Morgan until 2004, said that hacking was ‘endemic’ at the newspaper.

“Piers was extremely hands-on as an editor. I can’t say 100 percent that he knew about it. But it was inconceivable he didn’t.”

He added: "It was seen as a bit of a wheeze - something that was slightly underhand but something many of them did. What a laugh.’

In an e-mail interview,  Piers Morgan hit back at his accusers inside and outside Parliament: “I have never hacked a phone, told anyone to hack a phone, nor to my knowledge published any story obtained from the hacking of a phone,” Mr. Morgan said. “I am not aware, and have never seen evidence to suggest otherwise, that any Mirror story published during my tenure was obtained from phone hacking.”

In fairness there was sound of scores being settled in the latest episode of the hacking saga. Hipwell was jailed in 2006 for buying stock in companies before he touted them in his Mirror column. Morgan himself profited from the sale of one company’s stock. While Morgan, then Mirror editor, was cleared of any wrongdoing, Hipwell served 59 days in jail.

Whatever the truth of Morgan’s involvement in hacking during his time in Fleet Street - he was also editor of the News of the World -  the affair has undermined CNN’s claim to occupy the moral high ground especially with the Murdoch-owned Fox TV tainted by association with the hacking scandal. The accusations against Morgan have yanked the TV channel back into the journalistic swamp.

This will not matter one bit if the scandal appeases the TV gods of ratings. If Morgan, who has a knack of coming up smelling of Teflon despite the crap thrown at him, improves his ratings because of this scandal all will be forgiven. Not that Morgan feels there is anything to forgive. He has become the news rather than following it - exactly what he has been trying to achieve since taking over from Larry King six months ago.

However if there is a backlash and American viewers are turned off by a British TV host’ s perceived dodgy professional practices, then Morgan’s position will be in the firing line.

To misquote the former British Prime Harold Macmillan, it is ‘ratings dear boy, ratings, ‘ that will decide Morgan’s fate.

A CNN spokeswoman told the New York Times that Mr. Morgan had been asked about the accusations and “denied involvement in phone hacking both publicly and privately."

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As one of the world’s best-known biographers and a leading authority on modern celebrity, Morton has been called "the king of celebrity biographers." He became an overnight sensation with the publication of his groundbreaking 1992 biography revealing the secret world of the late Diana, Princess…

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